WHEN I was at Uni, during a particularly soul destroying moment in a particularly soul destroying lecture, I looked up in my moment of dread and saw the sole of a class mate’s shoe. It took a while to figure out what the lettering said. But eventually I figured it out. Her sole said, “ENJOY LIFE”. It’s a phrase that left an indelible stain on my brain, such was the darkness of the hour at hand.
You cherish the things you enjoy in your life. Writing about football, for example. I love it. It keeps me sane. I work away from home and through the week, there’s not that much else to do, especially when your work takes you to a rural backwater. I don’t have dogs to walk. I play six-a-side on a Wednesday (it’s like a drug), but other than that, I watch football.
Football on pub tellies. Football on shonky Internet streams, via creaky wireless connections. Very occasionally, actual football in actual football grounds. I watch football. And if I have the inclination, I write about it. And for some time now, I’ve been aware that the happy by-product of that writing has been my on-going sanity.
But there’s a problem. I’ve come to realise that my writing about football tends to be drawn from a well-spring of grief and fear. Grief at fellow fans and unreasonable expectations. Fear of what impatience with managers might lead to. Grief at leveraged buyouts. Fear of draws at home to Wigan. Grief at the standard of punditry, and the acceptance of nonsense as representative of footballing wisdom. That kind of thing.
The first article I can remember writing? A rage at someone referring to Rafa Benitez as an autocrat. It felt good. So I kept doing it. And as I wrote, I discovered that many others, like me, wanted to talk about aspects of the game that just weren’t being covered. I discovered that they, like me, wanted to learn more about the game. The minute detail. And as time passed, we all encouraged each other, and supported each other through our state of fear and grief, hoping for a time when it wouldn’t feel that way any more.
But that old notion, “Be careful what you wish for”. It was always lurking. Wishing for the sense of a well-managed football team, playing winning, entertaining football. Wishing for a fan base that’s broadly content. Wishing that impatience and lunacy might seem the exception, rather than the norm.
Those were the things I used to wish for, whether consciously or not. And with 2013 drawing to its close, I’m confronted with a strange realisation. Those things are starting to settle into place, aren’t they?
These aren’t fertile conditions for the seeds of fear and grief. And so I never write. And so my sanity is surely suffering. On some level. Surely.
It’s led to an almost imperceptible case of writer’s block. A gentle kind of cruelty. This season, I tend to watch the game, then smile, then go and do something else. Maybe even play with my kids. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. There are plenty of learned scribes around to analyse why things are going relatively well. The standard of football debate is inexorably rising. Jonathan Wilson on The Anfield Wrap, and Rory Smith on Five Live.
So here’s my new year’s resolution, a month or so early. I’m going to write about the joy of the game for the remainder of the year. I’m going to enjoy life. I’m going to make myself do it, because without my writing, I’m certain I’m subjecting myself to some kind of existential lobotomy.
To joy! To writing! But mostly, to wishes coming true.